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龍門飛甲 (2011)
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 03/01/2015
Summary: Lighten up, guys

Saw this one TV last night, and I concede much that the first two reviewers have. However, even a disappointing effort by HK's greatest director would be streets ahead of anything else.

Further, I found very little to disappoint. Although I missed the cinema 3D experience, I found it easy to visualize what it would have been like. Having watched a number of Chinese 3D wu'xia movies, I am familiar enough with the format to see what the filmmaker intended, and it was truly spectacular. Tsui has not lost his touch. Indeed, the more the technology improves, the better the use he makes of it.

Flat characterizations ? So what ? Most of my very favourite fu / actioners have little or none. They get in the way of the action.

I read no complaints about a simple plot. There is plenty going on here, and following the twists and turns took quite an effort. I was quite satisfied.

The women look great and, as in any good wu'xia, fight alongside the men as proud equals. With the changing sides and fast-paced action, it was sometimes difficult to tell them apart, but again, this is true of many wu'xia.

A pleasant surprise to read that the opening villain was indeed the great Gordon Liu.

Finally, I have seen the previous versions of Dragon Inn, and am quite happy to include FSoDG among them. Unmissable.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 11/12/2012
Summary: Could have been left alone

Experiencing “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” on home video is the worst of all possible worlds; one misses the flashy, CGI driven 3-D effects, like the probably dizzying swoop through the shipyard at the very beginning, but is all too aware of its dramatic and cinematic shortcomings. Most of the characters are stereotypical and flat. The ending is too long by half and doesn’t really end anything. While it is important to approach any work on its own merits it is also impossible (at least for me) not to think of “Dragon Inn” from twenty years earlier. Two decades from now the 1992 film will still be considered a classic while “Flying Swords” may be just a footnote in Tsui Hark’s career.

Zhao Huaian and his two sidekicks are perfectly noble, dedicating their lives to ridding China of corrupt officials, one severed head at a time. They are tireless, almost impervious to wounds and always willing to sacrifice themselves for China. Jet Li has spent a career playing such roles but with his wuxia prowess replaced with computer generated action his Zhao comes across as relentless but aloof. The audience could have thrilled to the exploits of Ling Yanqiu as she protected Su Huirong. Ling was a woman with a mysterious past disguised as a man; she can skewer a bad guy with the best of them and is chivalrous but with a streak of the loner. When Su asked too many personal questions Ling simply told her to stop or risk being left at the side of the road to be found by Eunuch Yu Huatain’s killers. Ling Yanqiu has been involved with Zhao Huaian in the recent past and identifies with him to the extent of taking his name as a nom de guerre. Unfortunately as a character she is much less than the sum of her parts. Zhao is noble and stoic; Ling is noble and petulant.

Su is whiny, ungrateful and much too nosy for a maid being hunted by killers because she was made pregnant by someone at court, possibly the Emperor. The reasons for her odd behavior are revealed through a series of clues involving a special purse she carries but her real loyalty is questionable from the beginning.

Eunuch Yu Huatian is powerful, charismatic and full of energy; his enemies are anyone who stands in his way, whether it is bureaucrats from the rival West Bureau or insurgents trying to end his corrupt influence on the imperial court. His West Bureau advance team are either craven or stupid or perhaps both. When confronted with the professional criminal Wind Blade, who looks exactly like the Eunuch but who struts and blusters without Yu’s malevolent self-confidence and razor sharp intuition, they are either dumb enough that they fail to see how uncharacteristically the phony Eunuch is acting or are so cowed by him that they simply accept the imposter at face value.

Wind Blade is an interesting character—an informer, he lives by his wits and will betray anyone for the right price. He knows his place in the scheme of things but exploits his uncanny resemblance to the Eunuch as far as he can. We want him to get away with audacious impersonation, even though he had to be pushed into it by his partner Gu Shaotang.

The Tartars, whose female leader is strikingly portrayed by Kwai Lun-Mei as a feral, half-savage creature, are tough, self-reliant, used to taking what they want and defend each other against all comers. When everyone finally arrives at the inn—a place about to buried by a black sandstorm that occurs every sixty years—things should become more intense. The film misses the sparks that should fly from the claustrophobic friction of good, evil and simply opportunistic people running into each other in the storm isolated inn by introducing a second focus of action, a courier station that is within a day’s ride and which is safe from the storm. Characters come and go from the station and the killer sandstorm takes forever to arrive after being on the horizon or overhead for a very long time.

Re-imagining a popular movie is treacherous. For every success, like the Judy Garland/ Sid Luft remake of “A Star is Born” there are failures such as the execrable 2004 Madonna/Guy Ritchie “Swept Away” or the Sylvester Stallone for Michael Caine remake of “Get Carter”. Tsui Hark’s effort falls between these extremes but was hardly worth the time, talent and money that went into it.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/21/2012
Summary: 5/10 - looks good, but lacks substance

Tsui Hark goes back to the well to draw fresh inspiration, returning once more to King Hu's classic Dragon Gate Inn - which he already remade rather wonderfully in 1992. The story is given a fresh set of details to flesh it out, but the basic skeleton remains the same - evil eunuchs, patriotic rebels and independent forces of uncertain allegiance all converge on the eponymous inn, where identities are masked and secrets concealed until a game of wits allows the various parties to ascertain where they all stand - and exactly whose ass they need to kick.

This is not the first time that Tsui Hark has convinced himself that one of his classic films really needed was an update with loads of CGI - witness Legend of Zu in 2001, an exercise which failed to convince anybody else of that viewpoint. This time he has an extra decade of Chinese experience in CGI to draw on though, and what's more... now he can do it in 3D! Well, I will have to take the internet's word for that, 'cause I watched in boring old 2D (albeit HD). Can he convince us this time that computer graphics are the tool he's been waiting for all along to truly unleash his imagination?

No, he can't. Aside from a few impressive moments, the CGI still looks rather fake, and fails to impress or engage as well as the low-budget special effects (wires, clever camera work) that made the 1992 film such an impressive spectacle. Furthermore, he seems to have failed to note the main lesson that caused Legend of Zu to rank so much lower in fans' hearts than its 1983 predecessor... all the special effects in the world won't engage an audience if they don't get involved in the story. Well-defined, likeable (or hateable, where appropriate) characters whose fates we actually care about will encourage us to forgive any weaknesses in the special effects, but the converse is rarely true. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate fails to deliver on characters, and fails to develop the script. The film begins by introducing the political intrigues of the court and the rival factions of the Eunuchs, then fails to provide any particular relevance to this fact. Jet Li plays a rebel who we assume to be patriotic, but doesn't actually offer any explanation whatsoever as to as his motivations, his particular plights, or much of a character at all (though he gets more than most). Various groups are introduced, and brought together at the inn, then the film sort of flounders for a little bit before everybody just sort of decides its time to start fighting. The sense of intrigue, the subtle details, the game of wits as these master fighters outsmart and outguess each other... the actual meat of King Hu's original film, in other words... pretty much replaced by 'one of the good guys happens to look exactly like the chief bad guy'.

Oh well, Jet Li's on hand, so at least there must be some spectacular action, right? Oh yeah, I forgot... he got old. There are some nicely choreographed action scenes in places, but with too much reliance on CGI of mixed effectiveness.

Maybe I'm viewing the older films with a touch of rose-tinting, or maybe I'm just getting old and tHe KidZ will see the many virtues of the latest attempt to improve a classic that I'm missing. It probably did look quite spectacular in 3D-capable cinemas... but I am yet to be convinced that that can ever take the place of a well written script, or a director who still remembers that he has human actors on set somwhere, and getting a great performance out of them is probably the most important of his job.

Reviewer Score: 5